PRINCETON — Delegates from the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) recently met and debated a somewhat controversial topic about the use of public schools as polling places during elections.
At the meeting, a proposal that would have prohibited school buildings from being used as polling places did not gain sufficient support by the IASB to change its supportive position, which has been held since 2007.
According to a press release issued by IASB, the proposal, which was submitted by Indian Prairie School District of Naperville, failed by a vote of 143 for and 173 against. Mark Rising, a representative of the school, said the issue is about increasing student safety. He said while schools are public buildings and should be offered to the public as much as possible, today is a different age and time for schools.
“We have children in these schools, and it’s taking the choice away from us, when we are responsible for their safety,” he said.
Other school representatives from around the state spoke against the proposal saying it wasn’t right to deny citizens the use of a public building in their communities, and removing polling places from schools would remove civic education from the eyes of students.
Back at home, Hall High School in Spring Valley is currently the only school used as a polling place for Bureau County voters.
With this topic coming to light once again, Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus said ideally she would like to pull the polling place from Hall, however, there are not enough public buildings in Spring Valley to accommodate the voters.
Currently, two precincts, which makes up about 750 registered voters, are assigned to vote at Hall High School.
Hall High School Superintendent Mike Struna said the district is happy to host voters on Election Day and has never had any concerns about the public using the school building as a polling place. Residents park in the same parking lot as students and vote in the school’s auditorium.
On a normal school day, all doors are locked and secured from the outside, however on Election Day, the school opens the door closest to the auditorium to prevent voters from walking though the hallways with students.
“In a small community like Spring Valley, there are only so many sites large enough for parking and to hold an election, so we like to make our facility available for all kinds of events,” Struna said.
A common suggestion officials have asked IASB to consider when thinking of ways to improve students safety on Election Day is to support changing the day to a school holiday.
Hieronymus said she would support this idea over removing the polling place from the school. However, several school officials around the state including Struna are opposed to the idea.
Their argument is that it’s not always possible for schools to take an extra holiday.
Struna said if the state board mandated schools take a holiday on Election Day, Hall would comply with it, but he would not be in favor of that law.
“I think we have enough published school holidays, and we try hard to get our 176 days in. It can be a challenge. I would rather it not be the situation, but I understand it may come to that,” he said.
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